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Archive for November, 2010

The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower’s Guide by Amy Goldman

This is my favorite of her books by far. My only complaint: it’s not long enough! I’ve read it straight through a bunch of times and it gets shorter each time. I love this book, and I love that we have the same taste in squash so I can be absolutely sure of her recommendations. I’d already determined that Buttercup squash was the most delectable of the grocery stores selections, and here is Amy confirming that fact and adding more to it. I can understand now why Buttercup tastes so superior, it is a different species (C. maxima) versus regular old pumpkin, which is C. pepo or Butternut, which is C. moshata. I’ve read some complaints about knowing the genus-species of the squash types, and referring to them often, but really people, it’s mainly just the three groups. And gardeners need to know what they’re planting for seed saving. If all you’re planting is C. pepos, then you’ll have to tape flowers shut and hand pollinize. But if you’re growing one each of the three species, then you won’t get any cross pollination and you can relax about it.

This book has excellent text about growing squash, and the paragraphs of her describing her adventures in fair growing had me reading out loud to my mom, who used to compete in the handmade clothing categories. Amy actually grew zucchini and yellow squash into plastic bags so they wouldn’t get scratched by the plants barbs! Hilarious, but it must have worked as she won the top prize not just once but several times.

As usual, the photographs of each variety are superb! I absolutely love all the shapes, textures, and colors that squash can create. And the history of each kind is so fascinating! I loved reading about the Iran squash [in case you don’t know, Iran’s vegetable history is being erased by the effects of war there.], Triamble and all the blue squashes of Australia, and the Japanese squashes. They all look so amazingly diverse, yet they all mostly kinda taste pretty much the same. It’s amazing!

That’s another thing I love about squash, is their absolute versatility in the kitchen. They can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, savory or sweet, or even desserts. One of the best moves I made in 2009 was making tons of puree and stocking my freezer with it so we could have pumpkin bread for breakfast almost every week throughout the winter. And Amy is always right: maximas make the best “pumpkin” puree. The c. pepo pie pumpkins were better than the field pumpkins (yes, that’s right, I cooked field pumpkins), but they couldn’t compete with the maxima squash for color, texture, and flavor. And when Amy said that the Rouge d’Vif Entemps would be watery, she was right again.

My top picks for squash based on her picks are: Thelma Sanders acorn squash, Seminole pumpkins (she says the vines are vigorous, so I can be assured they won’t accidentally die in my garden), Essex Hybrid (not actually a hybrid, but an heirloom, oddly), Lemon squash, and many more.

Yes, squash make me smile!

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The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table, by Amy Goldman

This is the quintessential book on growing tomatoes. Everything about it is superb: the time and effort that went into creating it is obvious on every page and paragraph, making the value of the book on par with the price. Having read this book many many times now, I’ll just go over my favorite highlights.

The book is well-organized, covering history, growing information, pollination and seed saving. She divides up the varieties by size, shape, and color and gives her criteria for judging flavors, and colors.

Her descriptions of the 250 varieties go far beyond seed catalogs in that she brings back the gardener behind the variety. Each of these tomatoes isn’t just a tomato. It is a living memorial to a real person who saw something special in their garden and took the effort to save the seed or cross it with something else to make it even better. The epitome of this storytelling comes with the variety German Pink, which comes from the recent ancestors of the founders of the Seed Savers Exchange. These people saw so much heritage and memories in this one variety of tomato that they labeled the seeds “Tomato #1” out of maybe 5000 today. This is also the tomato that graces the cover of the book, reaffirming Goldman’s level of seriousness about the tomato’s heritage and tomatoes as a heritage for future generations.

Another great example of the gardener behind the variety is the full page she devotes to telling the story of Green Zebra. This was a variety that was bred by Tom Wagner when he was just a kid tagging fruit trusses with his sister’s hair ribbons. And to think that this variety provokes so many smiles from gardeners and chefs alike. It might not be an “heirloom” variety depending on your definition, but it has definitely become part of our seed heritage.

Other varieties with fascinating stories: chili verde (which is now commercially available), Goldman’s Italian American (stabilized by the author and now commercially available), San Marzano and cousin Tillie’s canning factory and forbidden romance, Thai Pink and the inclusion of a fabulous flower arrangement on page 248, Purple Calabash and it being described as the color of a bruise, Pruden’s Purple, and gardeners everywhere looking for a “true” purple tomato., Orange-Fleshed Purple Smudge (which is now commercially available as a plum sized fruit, not the beefsteak she tests). Hollow stuffing tomatoes that look just like sweet bell peppers, Risetomate, the traveler’s tomato that breaks apart like a clump of grapes. And who knew there were 16 different Mortgage Lifter varieties? The “original” if you want to call it that (really the most famous) is Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter which puts out huge pink tomatoes. Versus McGarity’s Mortgage Lifter which made tomatoes so small and poor, Goldman writes “I don’t think you could pay off a car loan with it.” Thankfully in this case, the McGarity’s is not commercially available.

And then there is the recipe section. The recipes I’ve tried are

  • Corn polenta with tomato sauce (I don’t think I like polenta, sorry!),
  • Cherry Tomato Focaccia (it was hard to follow it since she divides up the quantities of flour needed—makes it difficult to divide in half, etc. but the roasted garlic was excellent),
  • Fried Green Tomatoes (I like these as FGT Parmesan—as in topped with marinara sauce. So tasty!).
  • Her original “Tomato Sauce” made with celery and carrots is as good as you can get, even with dried herbs. It is a very good hearty sauce with a bit of a zip to it and no added sugars.
  • And finally, I’ve made the Ketchup recipe. I had to simmer mine way longer because I started with regular tomatoes over plums. It turned out good, with a distinct homemade taste that is different—not superior to the “red stuff” as she calls it—but worth the effort nonetheless. She doesn’t say, but I’d remove the spice bag after 1 hour if simmering longer than that.

Overall, I really appreciate Goldman’s scientific approach and her historian’s accuracy. It makes this book so complete and timeless. It will stand on gardeners shelves for years and years and will always be relevant. Tomatoes are not going away anytime soon, but these varieties might if we don’t make the effort of seeking them out and growing them, plus saving seed for yourself and some gardening friends too. It gives us hope.

Varieties I’ve grown that are included in the book:

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Melons for the Passionate Grower by Amy Goldman

This is Dr. Goldman’s first book and unlike her next two, is much smaller (in dimensions) and includes less of herself as both an author and gardener/seed historian. In that respect, there is probable demand that it needs to be republished to the standards of her next two books. But that aside, this book features 100 melons, both watermelons and other melons which are categorized by species and varieties or types.

It also includes a lot of recipes, considering melons is not something we normally cook with or alter other than just putting it in our mouths and chewing. Her growing notes are top notch, as always.

It might be my lack of appreciation for melons, but this is my least favorite of her books. I’ve never really had a taste for muskmelon (which we continue to insist on calling cantaloupe—it’s not), nor honeydew, and despite my appreciation of watermelon, my tummy rejects it. But I still enjoy growing watermelon unless the slugs continue to decimate my seedlings. But maybe, oh maybe we’ll grow something new and if so, I’ll pick based on her recommendations. So far my top picks are: Bidwell casaba melon, Orangeglo watermelon, and Blacktail Mountain watermelon.

Here’s my pic of my home grown Sugar Baby watermelon, mentioned in the book:

So cute and cuddly!

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Green Tomato Coffee Cake is delicious with its spicy crumbly topping.

This is luscious, more like a muffin than a dry cake. The tomatoes especially help to keep the cake moist. This recipe also works just as great with fresh rhubarb. Makes 12 pieces.

Ingredients:
1 cu white flour
½ cu wheat flour
1/3 cu white sugar
½ cu brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon, divided
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ cu oil
1 egg, beaten
1 cu finely diced or minced unripe tomatoes
½ cu water
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

Green cherry tomatoes are perfect for this recipe.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350F. Oil or grease an 8 x 8 cake pan.

Dice or mince the green tomatoes, set aside.

I chose to hand dice the tomatoes. I cut up more than a cup's worth--that's fine.

Combine flours, sugars, and 1 tsp each cinnamon and ginger in a large bowl and mix.

Combining flour and sugar in a large bowl.

Add in the ¼ cu oil and stir in (like cutting in butter, but easier).

Mix the oil into the dry ingredients.

Measure out 2/3rds of a cup of this mixture and put it into a small mixing bowl with remaining 2 tsp cinnamon. Stir in the cinnamon, set aside.

Stir in the cinnamon with the reserved flour mixture.

Back to the large mixing bowl, add in baking powder, baking soda, and salt and combine. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the green tomatoes, water, and egg and stir briefly. Pour tomato mixture into the large mixing bowl and stir gently, until just mixed.

Pour the green tomato mixture into the dry flour mixture.

Transfer to the cake pan. Top with the reserved flour-sugar-cinnamon mixture.

Sprinkle reserved topping onto the batter in the cake pan.

Even coating of topping on the coffee cake. The lumpier the better, in this case.

Bake for 25 mins or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool, then cut into 12 pieces.

*A good green tomato will have reached its full size, but will not have started to blush or turn color. It will have immature seeds with little gel, and a very mild taste, with a bit of sweetness. It will not be a ripe green-when-ripe tomato variety. Eating raw unripe tomatoes is not recommended and may be toxic.

 

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Victoria rhubarb, diced

Official Description:

The best cooking rhubarb, bar none-noticeably sweeter and milder the all others. Stalks are slender and very tender, so it’s quick and easy to fix for the pot. Plants are prolific; stalks green with red blush.

Appearance:
The stalks are green with a red tint at the root end. If you cut your stalks to harvest, you will get even less red tint than if you twist off by hand. My plants were a little low on full-sized stalks, which are supposed to be 1 inch wide.

You get more red color when stalks are twisted off rather than cut.

Taste:
If you are already a fan of rhubarb, then you will like these. They have the classic tart taste. They are really versatile in the kitchen, too. I used them in strawberry-rhubarb popsicles, rhubarb coffee cake, rhubarb muffins, etc.

Growth & Health:

 

Rhubarb plants in the garden

 

These plants are big and beautiful. When the planting tag says they need 3 feet of room, give it to them! I had to transplant one of my plants as it was planted too close to the first. The roots had grown exponentially since the first year I planted them. This was their 2nd year, and they grew very well and were very productive. They did tend to droop during the dry summer, so I kept them watered by hand to keep them perkier. However, when the stalks lowest to the ground start to droop, they will eventually die. You might as well keep the plant trimmed and eat the excess than let it go to waste.

Grow Again?
Rhubarb is a perennial, so it’s there for life. However, had I paid more attention when I picked out my variety, I would not get the Victoria kind again. I really wanted red stalks to provide more visual interest in the garden bed.

End-of-Year Stats (2nd year Harvest):
# of Plants___Days to Maturity___Days Off____Yield____Yield per Plant
__2__________late May_________-_______26 cups_______13 cups

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The lemon squash is an heirloom summer squash

I loved growing 8Ball zucchini, so when I found out there was a round yellow squash out there I couldn’t wait to grow these.

Official Description:

(C. pepo) The shape, size and color of a lemon, it grows great here, has huge yields and the best resistance to insects I have seen in a summer squash. Very tasty, great fried! A favorite, this is a superb market variety and is very attractive.

Appearance:
They are very like a lemon in size and shape. When picked at “lemon” sized, they average 6 oz, but I tried to wait and pick them when they were larger, 8 oz or so. The outside of the squash is absolutely amazing: they are delicately handpainted with 2 shades of yellow.

See the hand painted striping?

Taste:
They taste just like any other yellow squash. In my experience, yellow squash differs from green zucchini by having a tad thicker skin, slightly more rubbery texture and tend to be seedier at a smaller size. These keep better than store bought yellow squash, thankfully. They also have pretty dense flesh so they can really hold up to various cooking methods.

A lemon squash makes nice slices

Growth & Health:
I grew 2 vines. They are a bush-type plant. One vine was healthy and productive, the other was a runt. Both plants escaped with only minor damage from early squash vine borers. They got powdery mildew late in the season but my larger plant kept trying to grow despite being in the throes of certain death.

Grow Again?
Maybe. I was not impressed with the harvest of these. If I grow again, I’ll plant twice as many so I can make stuffed squash more than just once in the season. But overall, I preferred 8Ball zucchini to these. The fruits would not get bigger than 8 oz no matter how long they were left on the vines while the 8Balls got to 1 lb easily. They really are attractive, though.

End-of-Year Stats:
# of Plants___Days to Maturity___Days Off____Yield____Yield per Plant
__2____________63_____________-_______9__________4

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I admit it: I am an avid reader! But I am a slow newbie when it comes to teen vampire/werewolf drama romances. However, even years late, I admit that the Twilight Saga makes a great summer read. Stephanie Meyer’s The Host was an excellent example of vivid storytelling. But I’ll talk about that book in another post.

After reading all 4 books in the Twilight Saga, and then reading my Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog again, I realized that one could very easily plant a Twilight garden! (Some of these can also be found at Tomato Growers Supply.) Some of my descriptions may include spoilers, so go out and read the books already 😉

This list could be used to encourage young adults and teens to get into gardening. It could be used for a community garden, a school garden, or in your own personal garden. There’s a wide variety here for vegetables, but I’ve included some flowers as well at the end for those who are inclined. Enjoy!

A smattering of the tomatoes for the Twilight Garden

Tomatoes:
Violet Jasper: These tomatoes are similar to Green Zebra only deep purple with green stripes. Very nice. So picked after the character Jasper, obviously. Jasper is one of my favorite characters–he was excellently developed deeper in Eclipse.

Topaz: These tomatoes very similar to Violet Jasper only they are yellow with green speckles. Picked after the color of the Cullen’s eyes.  Bella changes her favorite gemstone to topaz after meeting Edward.

Bella Rosa Hybrid: These are medium-large red globes. Yes, this is a hybrid pick. But it is the only tomato named Bella–can you believe it?

Rosalita: These are red grape tomatoes. Picked after Rosalie, of course. I loved how she was developed more in Eclipse. You could also plant Rose or Red Rose instead.

Black Prince: A black salad tomato, or a small globe. This is doubly appropriate for Jacob, as he is a Black and the natural leader of his pack, or alpha. So prince works. You would not believe the number of plants that have the word ‘Black’ in them, so this is the only one I’ve included here. I’m totally Team Jacob, btw.

Break-o-Day: a great producing red globe. So picked for Breaking Dawn.

Seattle Best of All: Another red all purpose tomato. So picked because the books take place in Forks, Washington. Seattle is in Washington, obviously. It is also where Victoria chooses to create her new vampire coven in Eclipse.

Weeping Charlie: This is a red paste-style tomato. So picked after Bella’s father. But does he actually seem like the kind of man who’d weep? I think not, but it’s the only tomato named Charlie so there you go.

Morning Sun: A yellow grape (cherry) tomato. These would look great when paired with Rosalita. So picked after Breaking Dawn also.

A beautiful assortment of veggies from the Twilight Garden

Other Vegetables:
Loves-Lies-Bleeding Red Amaranth: This is one freaky looking plant. It is grown for its edible leaves (use like spinach), and also as a grain crop for its seeds. But the name is so interesting when thought of in the Twilight perspective. Bella lies bleeding on the floor in Twilight, and again in New Moon, and finally in Breaking Dawn. She probably bleeds in Eclipse too, when Edward is fighting Victoria.

Moonshadow Hyacinth (Lablab) Bean: I’ve grown these for 2 years now and I love them. It is ornamental because the vines and leaves are tinged purple, and it puts out beautiful lavender flowers. Its dark burgundy bean pods are very tasty in stir fry. So picked after Eclipse. As an eclipse is when the shadow of the moon covers the sun, or the shadow of the earth covers the moon. Which is more appropriate for the series?

Mary Washington Asparagus: These are the classic heirloom asparagus. I did not choose to plant these because they drop seeds and can become invasive. So picked because they are in Forks, Washington (not picked after the person in this instance).

Dragon Tongue Bean: These are a very cool looking bean for the garden, being both green and purple. They are to be eaten as a regular green bean (edible pod). This is an intersting pick because the word ‘dragon’ in Romanian is ‘dracul’ which of course, referrs to the original vampire, Dracula.

Jacob’s Cattle Bean: These are a very old type of bean that is used dry, like Pinto beans. They are white and maroon speckled. So picked after Jacob, though he hardly has cattle.

Bull’s Blood Beet: These are the reddest of the red beets. Even the leafy parts are deeply colored. So picked because the Cullens survive off the blood of animals, not humans.

Romanesco Italia Broccoli: This is the super cool spiriling broccoli. You may have seen pictures of it, but it is more commonly grown in Europe. In New Moon, Bella and Alice travel to Italy to save Edward from the Italian vampires. This broccoli’s name covers all the bases for anything Italian.

Tete Noir Cabbage: This is a very dark purple variety of cabbage. So picked because the French name means ‘black head or face’, which makes me think of an eclipse again.

Lunar White Carrot: Before carrots were orange, they were white. These are a natural pick after New Moon.

Edmondson Cucumber: These are a very cute 4 inch light green mini cucumber. It has also been around since 1913, which is very close to Edward’s year of birth. But it is so picked because finally something is named Edward or a derivitave.

Golden Honeymoon Melon: This is a unique Honeydew melon with gold skin. Obviously picked for Breaking Dawn where Edward and Bella honeymoon on a private island off of Brazil.

Jake’s Melon: This unique melon is a Native American heirloom. It has yellow-orange flesh with a spotty tan rind. So picked after Jacob again.

Alaska Peas: These are a classic shelled pea. So picked because when Edward meets Bella for the first time, the only thing he can do to keep himself from killing her is to drive to Alaska. Plus another friendly coven of vegetarian vampires lives there as well.

Chicago Warted Hubbard Squash: These are like classic Hubbard squash except with wrinkled warty skin. It might be a stretch, but Edward was born in Chicago. I think that’s where Carlisle turned him as well.

Victoria Rhubarb: Despite Victoria’s red hair, this rhubarb only has a blush of red on the stalks. They’re mostly green. They’re also perennial (come back year after year–much like the real Victoria) so don’t plant them unless you really mean it.

Verona Watermelon: A classic red watermelon with dark green skin. It’s another stretch, but in New Moon, Bella and Edward are studying Romeo and Juliet and the play takes place in Verona, Italy.

Diamond Eggplant: This eggplant grows a longer, more narrower shaped fruit. In Eclipse Edward gives Bella a diamond (and more than one in her engagement ring).

And some lovely flowers as well.

Other Plants:
Yeti Nasturtium: because like the Yeti (Abominable Snowman) we all know that werewolves and vampires don’t exist. 😉 Nasturtium is also edible, having a spicy peppery taste.

Moonlight Nasturtium: another stretch but with all the ‘moon’ talk, moonlight seems appropriate. Plus Moonlight was another vampire-related tv show which was very good.

Evening Sun Sunflower: a stretch, but technically twilight is the last light of the day.

Lion’s Tail Herb: This herb is like mint. Edward’s favorite meal is Mountain Lion. He also refers to himself as a lion, and Bella a lamb.

Tiger Eye Sunflower: a stretch, but if you’ve seen this flower it looks just like Edward’s eyes.

King Edward Sweet Peas: Finally, something actually named Edward! But sweet peas aren’t edible, alas.

Isabellini Zinna: The only thing even closely related to Bella’s name, Isabella. It is the flower in the center above, a buttery yellow flower.

The end! If you’ve read down this far, congratulations!

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